BEIRUT: Lebanon abstained from voting on a UN resolution to establish an independent institution focused on learning the fate of around 130,000 missing or forcibly disappeared persons during the civil war in Syria.
The resolution was adopted by the UN General Assembly on Thursday evening, with 83 votes in favor out of 193, 11 against and 62 abstentions, including some Arab states.
Many Lebanese condemned their country’s decision as a number of their countrymen and women remain missing, with some presumed to have been detained in Syrian jails, despite the end of the Lebanese Civil War and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005.
Nizar Saghieh, a Lebanese lawyer and human rights activist, told Arab News: “The (Lebanese Commission for the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared) following up the file of the missing and disappeared persons is an independent commission, and therefore it can deal with the independent institution that the UN General Assembly decided to establish, in order to reveal the fate of the Lebanese who have disappeared in Syria directly.”
He added: “It is not important now whether Lebanon votes in favor or against the decision, as it became a binding UN resolution.
“The Lebanese state cannot prevent the national commission from communicating with the independent UN institution. The independence of the Lebanese national commission was a requirement, so no one would prohibit it from doing what should be done to follow up the file.”
The Lebanese Commission for the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared said it held “caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the Cabinet, including Foreign Minister Bou Habib, accountable for Lebanon’s abstention from voting in favor of the missing and forcibly detained Lebanese and Syrians in Syrian prisons.”
The commission’s statistics indicate that there are currently 622 missing and forcibly detained Lebanese people, including a number of Lebanese soldiers. The commission demands that their fate be made known and that the remains of the dead be returned to their families.
It also called on the minister of foreign affairs “to resign immediately and apologize to the families of the missing and forcibly disappeared in Bashar Assad’s prisons, and from all the Lebanese prisons.”
The Foreign Ministry said that the decision “was taken after consultations with caretaker Premier Najib Mikati and in accordance with the semi-Arab consensus to refrain from voting, as Lebanon doesn’t want to politicize this case.”
It added: “Lebanon remains committed to resolving this issue, along with the issue of the Syrian refugees, through dialogue and understanding between Lebanon, Syria and the concerned Arab and international parties.”
The ministry reiterated “Lebanon’s respect and adherence to the implementation of all legitimate international resolutions, including numerous resolutions that have not been implemented.”
Families of the missing and disappeared in Lebanon and Syria have been carrying out street protests for decades since the civil war erupted.
Mothers hold pictures of their sons, husbands or brothers and set up tents in front of the UN, demanding to know their fate.
All efforts made by Syria to close the file have failed. The regime does not acknowledge the presence of the missing and disappeared in its prisons.
Former detainee Ali Abou Dehen, head of Lebanese Political Detainees in Syrian Prisons, said the UN resolution is “a political document imposed by great and powerful forces in the UN to pressure Syria.”
Abou Dehen said he was not surprised by the state’s decision, as it “has never inquired about the 622 missing people in Syrian prisons.”
He added: “You have the disappeared and the missing, and then you have hundreds of people who died under torture and were buried in mass graves.”
Ashraf Rifi, the former Lebanese minister of justice, described Beirut’s abstention as “a moral and national setback, a cowardly crime and a way to avoid responsibility.”
He said: “The Syrian regime committed abduction and torture crimes in Lebanon and Syria.”
Parliamentarian Georges Okais said: “As much as we are ashamed of the Lebanese state’s decision to abstain from voting in favor of this resolution, we are very happy that the UN resolution was adopted by the majority of the member states.”
Okais added: “The world will discover the scope of tragedies inflicted by the Syrian regime for decades upon the Syrian and Lebanese peoples. What the Lebanese and I want from the Lebanese National Commission for the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared is to communicate with the international committee and ask it to include the fate of the Lebanese who have disappeared in Syrian prisons within its jurisdiction.”
Reformist MP Ibrahim Mneimneh said: “We cannot consider the foreign minister’s decision part of the active foreign policy based on national interest, as it constitutes a violation of the constitution introduction and Lebanon’s international obligations, including the UN Convention against Torture.
“This opposes Lebanon’s historical role and places us among countries that support punishment and lawless states. The decision doesn’t take into account Lebanon’s interest, especially the case of Samir Kassab, a Lebanese journalist who disappeared in Syria during the Syrian (Civil War), in addition to the disappeared Lebanese in Syrian prisons, as this commission might contribute to revealing their fate.”